Manchester Grant Hyatt. Courtesy photo

The San Diego City Council Tuesday approved an emergency ordinance requiring hotels, event centers and commercial property businesses to recall employees by seniority when businesses begin to recover and to retain employees if the business changes ownership after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic abates.

The local ordinance applies to hotels with more than 200 rooms, janitorial, maintenance and security companies with more than 25 employees and gives recalled employees three days to decide whether to accept an offer to return.

The ordinance, approved on a 7-2 vote, will remain in effect for six months or until Dec. 31, depending on Gov. Gavin Newsom and whether he signs Assembly Bill 3216 into law statewide. The state legislation has a significantly lower bar, requiring hotels with 50 or more rooms and event centers with 50,000 square feet or 1,000 seats or more to employ retain and recall rules by seniority.

Derrick Robinson of the Center on Policy Initiatives said the ordinance is a good step toward protecting older workers and Black and Latino workers.

“A recall by seniority protects against discrimination and favoritism,” he said. “And a retention protects workers when a business changes ownership.”

Robinson said more than 90,000 hospitality and food service workers had lost their jobs since March, with less than half returning to work.

Councilman Chris Ward drafted the ordinance for service and hospitality workers.

“Council’s action to approve my Emergency Recall and Retention Ordinance will ensure the most experienced San Diegans, in our most critical sectors, are rehired first to promote efficiency and safety as we re-open and rebuild our economy,” he said. “For months, we’ve heard from San Diegans who are at risk of losing their careers after decades of service. These workers deserve fair assurances that they will be able to rebuild their lives after the pandemic and continue to work and provide for their families and loved ones.”

Councilmen Scott Sherman and Chris Cate cast the dissenting votes, even after several business-friendly amendments by Councilman Mark Kersey were added.

Sherman saw it as government overreach which doesn’t allow businesses to be flexible or hire back on merit.

“Regional hotels are facing the most serious economic crisis in the history of San Diego. Flexibility and business expertise is needed to save the industry from unprecedented declines in tourism due to COVID-19,” Sherman said.

“Instead of supporting this vital sector, the City Council has attached a heavy bureaucratic anchor around the necks of the hotel industry. This heavy- handed ordinance drafted by union bosses could result in the closure of several hotels already struggling to survive.”

Council President Georgette Gomez saw the ordinance as a win for the tourism industry, but more specifically for the workers laboring in that industry, particularly coming off Labor Day weekend.

Several dozen San Diegans called in to voice thoughts and concerns about the emergency ordinance.

Among them were workers, some of whom have been in the hospitality industry for decades, who urged the council to help them and their families, while multiple business organizations and hotel owners decried the ordinance as union heavy-handiness which could sink their struggling businesses.

— City News Service